Vernalia

Author: Emily Mae

Fandom: Harry Potter

Claim: Morag MacDougal


March 1992

Morag woke at dawn on the morning of the equinox, the tight ache in her chest eliminating any possibility of falling back asleep. Her roommates were all taking advantage of the free Saturday morning that allowed them to lie in, though Morag could hear Lisa's toad croaking from behind her navy bed hangings. Without a second thought, Morag threw off her covers, dressed quickly, and draped her cloak around her shoulders before slipping silently out of the dormitory.

First year had been difficult for Morag. Not academically – she was nearly top of the class in Transfiguration and she excelled in her other subjects, too. She struggled because she missed her family. Even this far into the school year, she often longed for home, and days like today only made the sickness worse.

Morag had been excited enough to start at Hogwarts. She'd been hearing stories about the castle, classes and professors from her parents, aunts and uncles for as long as she could remember. So last September, even though her youngest brother, Callum, had wept and clung to her robes as she boarded the Hogwarts Express, she passed the train ride happily, looking forward to the Sorting and the Welcome Feast. But that night, as she tried to fall asleep in her unfamiliar bed in Ravenclaw Tower, hot tears stained her pillow and she sobbed herself to sleep quietly, her heart already aching for home.

Morag wandered the corridors, paying little mind to where her feet carried her. The castle was peacefully quiet so early in the morning. She stopped for a moment to gaze longingly out the high glass windows, the misty grey morning blurring the rolling green hills that reminded her so fiercely of her home in the Highlands.

She didn't know how the other girls could stand it. Being away from their families. Mandy received packages of sweets and trinkets from home every week, she knew, and Padma had Parvati. But how could that be enough?

It never occurred to Morag that family might not be as important to the other girls as it was to her. She had been raised and home-schooled by her mother in the same modest cottage in which she and her brothers had been born. Callum and Ewen. Even the thought of them made her sad. They had been her babies, her schoolmates and her constant companions for the better part of her life. She remembered waiting with them by the front door every evening, trying to calm the fidgety boys as they anxiously awaited their father's return from work. He would come through the wooden door at exactly 5:13 each day, drop his dragon-hide briefcase and scoop the three of them into his strong arms. Then he'd kiss their mother and they would all sit down for supper.

The memory was fond, but it made Morag's chest constrict with longing, especially today.

It was the vernal equinox. The first day of spring. It had once been Morag's favourite holiday – a day when all her aunts and uncles and cousins gathered at her cottage for a festival full of food and flowers, of games and songs and daisy-chains. A day to be thankful that they'd all weathered the winter, and a time to welcome the dawn of a new season. A season of rebirth. But today, Morag was alone, and the holiday that usually felt so hopeful only left her feeling hollow.

She eventually found herself outside the Great Hall. Though a savory scent wafted through the open doors that caused her tummy to rumble hungrily, she could only think of the fried haggis and toast that her family would soon be enjoying without her. Morag crossed the Entrance Hall and pushed open the heavy oak door that separated her from the grounds.

The pearly grey clouds seemed to have fallen from the sky, swirling into drizzle, mist and fog that enveloped the lush green countryside and Morag in their cool embrace. For a brief moment, she was consumed by the same sense of safety she felt when her father hugged her and her brothers close. But a sharp wind blew and Morag clutched her black cloak more tightly around her shoulders, the warm feeling gone on the breeze.

She took a deep breath of the cool, damp air, letting it fill her up before she ventured forth onto the grounds, her destination as uncertain as it had been inside the castle. She wandered down the lakeshore, and when she tired of that, she found herself en route to the greenhouses.

The fresh air and familiar landscape had Morag feeling marginally more cheerful as she peered through the window of greenhouse three where the more dangerous plants were kept. The first years weren't allowed in, but Morag was drawn to the bright blossoms and funny foliage that filled the front windows, bringing the smallest hint of a smile to her lips. It was only when she tried to get a better look at the reddish Venomous Tentacula growing along the far wall that she realized she wasn't alone.

Professor Sprout stood in the middle of the greenhouse, her green and brown robes and patched hat nearly camouflaging her from view. She wielded a spade in one hand and her wand in the other, a dark streak of dirt staining her cheek. Morag tried to slip away quickly, worried that Professor Sprout might thinking she was making mischief being out on the grounds alone so early in the morning. But before she could flee, Professor Sprout caught her gaze, smiled brightly and ushered her inside the balmy botanical sanctuary.

"Ever heard of Vernalia, MacDougal?" Professor Sprout asked by way of greeting, handing Morag a pair of dragon-hide gloves.

Morag shook her head. Herbology was her favourite subject, even though she was better at Transfiguration. Working with the plants, flowers and soil always reminded her of her mother who loved to garden. Despite this, Morag couldn't recall ever hearing or reading about Vernalia.

"Very rare," Sprout explained, gesturing to the pot at which she'd been toiling when Morag first spotted her. "Very powerful. And very fragile."

The pot held an elaborate tangle of thin, bright green vines that had braided themselves around a supportive wooden lattice. Pristine white flowers were slowly unfurling all along the plant as Morag looked on, the fresh blooms continuing to open and close ever so slightly once they'd blossomed, as if they were breathing.

"They only bloom one day a year," the stout witch went on, heaping more fertilizer into the pot and patting it down carefully.

"The first day of spring," Morag noted quietly.

"Precisely. The petals are very delicate, but at the moment of the equinox, they become somewhat sturdier. Sturdy enough to harvest, at any rate. These will fetch a pretty knut from the apothecary in Diagon Alley, but we'll make sure Professor Snape has enough for his stores first."

Morag nodded to show that she understood.

"Nearly time, I think," Professor Sprout stated, readjusting her gloves and picking up her wand as the crystalline petals began to quiver nearly imperceptibly. "Hold this."

She handed Morag a large glass jar which she accepted obediently.

Suddenly, the blossoms began to vibrate in earnest, and one by one, they began to change colour. But the petals weren't bright like the wild flowers that grew around her cottage. These colours were unlike any she had ever seen on a plant, though she was distinctly reminded of the pearly inside of a seashell, or a soap bubble floating in the sunlight.

Professor Sprout set to work immediately, taking care to sever each blossom cleanly from the vine without damaging the valuable, opalescent petals. Morag watched silently, admiring the unique glow of each Vernalia as her professor deposited them in the jar.

After a long hour of patient labour, Professor Sprout harvested the final flower and added it to the full jar in Morag's arms. But then, seeing the way the pretty blooms made Morag smile, she hastily removed the last one and fixed it with a Preserving Charm. She presented the unique flower to Morag, thanking her for her help and sending her on her way back to the castle.

Feeling better than she had all day, Morag rushed up to Ravenclaw Tower, carrying the precious Vernalia petals gingerly in her palm. She fetched her favourite quill and a long sheaf of parchment from her trunk, ignoring the inquisitive stares of her roused roommates as she dashed back out of the room.

She ran down the corridors, up and down flights of stairs, taking turns at random until she was sure she was quite alone. Only then did she settle into a comfortable nook and begin writing a very long letter to her family. Her spirits lifted with every word as she chronicled her morning's adventure in great detail. Once she'd done that, she kept writing, asking about the equinox celebration and expressing her excitement at the fact that she'd be returning home for the Easter holidays in less than a month. When she couldn't think of anything else to write, she drew silly pictures for Ewen and Callum. And when she finally ran out of parchment, she signed the letter with her name and her love, and rushed to the Owlery where she stuffed the neatly folded letter into an envelope with the preserved Vernalia petals tucked inside.

Morag watched the barn owl bearing her package soar gracefully over the misty mountains which sparkled like emeralds in the first sunlight of spring. And in that moment, for the very first time, Morag MacDougal realized that Hogwarts could feel like home, too, if she only let it.